Bangladesh cartoonist arrested under harsh Internet laws granted bail after protests

Protesters calling for the abolition of digital security laws and justice for the death of writer Mushtaq Ahmed in Dhaka on March 1, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

DHAKA (AFP) - A prominent Bangladeshi cartoonist was granted bail on Wednesday (March 3) as several hundred people staged more protests over the death of a fellow government critic also arrested under the country's harsh Internet laws.

Ahmed Kabir Kishore, 42, was detained in May after he drew cartoons mocking a powerful businessman close to the government and has since developed major health problems, activists said.

Last week, writer Mushtaq Ahmed, who was arrested together with Kishore, died in prison, sparking days of sometimes violent protests against Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's government. They were both detained under Bangladesh's Digital Security Act (DSA), which rights groups say is being used to silence and intimidate critics of the government in the country of 168 million people.

On Wednesday the High Court - after multiple refusals from lower courts - granted Kishore bail for six months "considering his long detention", deputy attorney general Md. Sarwar Hossain Bappi told AFP.

Kishore's brother Ahsan Kabir alleged that the cartoonist had been tortured in police custody, and had an eardrum infection and an injured leg. "His diabetes has worsened in custody... We fear for his life. We fear his injured left leg could get gangrene and may have to be cut off," Kabir told AFP.

Nearly 500 people protested on Wednesday, calling for justice for Ahmed and the scrapping of the digital laws, which have triggered concern from the United States, the European Union and the United Nations.

They held a rally in front of the National Press Club and then marched towards Ms Hasina's office, before police halted them in central Dhaka. On Monday, opposition activists clashed with police, leaving dozens injured as officers fired tear gas and rubber bullets at the protesters, who threw rocks.

More than a dozen protesters, including a labour leader, were detained. Citing data from Bangladesh's Cyber Crime Tribunal, Amnesty International says nearly 2,000 cases have been filed under the DSA, with journalists particular targets.

UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet on Monday urged Bangladesh to ensure a transparent probe into Ahmed's death. She also called on Dhaka to "conduct a review of the Digital Security Act... suspend its application; and release all those detained under it for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and opinion".

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